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Skyscrapers? High growth has York County leaders at least considering the possibility

York County SC leaders talk vertical growth

York County SC leaders talk tall apartment buildings in Fort Mill. Tega Cay and Fort Mill having limits on building height.
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York County SC leaders talk tall apartment buildings in Fort Mill. Tega Cay and Fort Mill having limits on building height.

At some point in York County, where growth is booming, developers could run out of land. When that happens, they could look up.

And that could mean taller buildings.

At a recent county public safety committee meeting, talk turned to population growth and where future development could fit more people and businesses. No one advocated for skyscraper apartments, but an ongoing observation leads assistant county manager Andy Merriman to believe more density may be likely.

County leaders have begun conversations about mass transit and possibly linking to Charlotte’s light rail system. Mass transit could spawn even more growth in this county. The Rock Hill-Fort Mill Area Transportation Study put together an I-77 corridor analysis that includes mass transit among its recommendations.

“Whether that’s a pipe dream or not, the density required to effectuate light rail is unlike anything the current zoning allows in Fort Mill,” said York County Assistant County Manager Andy Merriman. “If that’s really the way we’re going to go, we can talk density numbers of hundreds of units per acre and going vertical.”

York County Councilman Britt Blackwell said in discussion with real estate agents, it seems the home market is well on its way to Rock Hill.

“It’s coming this way,” he said. “It’s jumping Fort Mill now because they’ve maxed out. Maxed out in what can be done.”

Merriman isn’t so sure.

“It is coming this way, but I don’t think we’ve really scratched the surface on what we can pack into Fort Mill, Tega Cay and the unincorporated area,” he said. “The multi-family and vertical options, for commercial and multi-family, are what we’re going to see.”

An apartment skyscraper can’t be built today in Fort Mill. Same for Tega Cay, or unincorporated areas like Lake Wylie, the Carowinds corridor, Baxter or Regent Park. Town, city and county codes have limits on how tall residential and commercial construction can be.

Many of the height requirements deal with commercial properties. If buildings are too tall, fire service may not be able to protect them.

Fort Mill

In Fort Mill, residential and commercial height restrictions vary.

“The maximums depend on the specific zoning district and use, but they generally range from 35 feet in single-family residential districts to 60 feet in our highway-oriented commercial districts,” said Chris Pettit, Fort Mill assistant town manager.

Those numbers generally mean apartments at no more than three or four stories and commercial up to six stories. Current developments in town also cap commercial square footage and total dwelling units. Those caps limit extremely large or tall buildings, Pettit said.

“It has been a consistent practice by our town council to establish these maximums so that development potential isn’t simply a function of the availability of land,” he said.

The Greens at Fort Mill was hailed by town leaders as a game-changer for the downtown area when the four-story, 64-unit project at the top of Main Street was approved. The Greens sits on 2.5 acres. A 2013 zoning of the property allowed for up to 28 units per acre.

The Berkshire apartments in Fort Mill have undergone several name changes. The 30-acre site on Paddock Club Lane has 96 units and three stories — a little more than three units per acre. The four-story Kingsley Apartments have 241 units on 14 acres, or about 17 units per acre.

Fort Mill, South Carolina, impact fee numbers show almost all new construction the past year was residential. Fees can be used for parks and recreation, fire and municipal service.

Tega Cay

Tega Cay has similar rules.

“It would really depend on the particular zoning district and the applicable building codes for height restrictions,” said Susan Britt, city planning and development manager.

Most Tega Cay residential districts have a 50-foot max height. A mixed-use district goes up to 50, or up to four stories.

“However, if these are to be located next to a residential property then there must be a building height transition or ‘stepdown’ to 45 feet,” Britt said.

In the Tega Cay’s marina overlay district, buildings can reach up to 70 feet, or five stories, if builders can use topography to help firefighters. That would mean a land slope might have the appearance of five stories on one side, including underground parking, but three stories on the other side.

Most Tega Cay residential districts allow no more than five units per acre. Apartments can go to 14 units per acre, or potentially more if part of a planned development district.

Evolve at Tega Cay is a three-story, 260-unit complex on almost 17 acres. Evolve works out to just more than 15 units per acre. Revere at Tega Cay has 336 units on 23 acres, or a little less than 15 units per acre for the three-story complex.

A growing county

Fort Mill and Tega Cay aren’t alone in growth. A former golf driving range on 30 acres was sold in 2014 to make way for Revere at Lake Wylie. The 444 apartments come out to almost 15 units per acre. Just across Charlotte Highway, Marlin Bay has 240 apartments on 14 acres. That density comes to about 17 units an acre. Both apartment complexes are three stories.

However, none of the existing apartment projects stack up with York County’s tallest potential residential structure, one mired in legal controversy decades after construction began.

MorningStar Fellowship Church bought 52 acres of former Praise The Lord ministry property in 2004. That property includes an unfinished 21-story tower in Fort Mill area.

MorningStar is suing York County now on claims of religious discrimination, arguing the county’s hostile attitude toward the church and unwillingness to issue construction permits prevents MorningStar from completing the tower.

MorningStar has discussed turning the tower into apartments for seniors. The tower has a footprint of about an acre. It has more than 500 rooms.

Municipal and county leaders say they’re not looking to add massive vertical residential space. They also, through their codes, want considerable say in what type of residential construction might be allowed.

“Over time, as the city of Charlotte continues to fuel growth within the region, changes in development patterns will continue to move outward toward the state line and beyond,” Pettit said. “However, development patterns and potential within the town limits of Fort Mill would remain a function of the town’s regulations.”

York County officials wonder if a specific housing study will help in its search for answers to issues in high residential growth areas like Fort Mill, Tega Cay and Lake Wylie.

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John Marks covers community growth, municipalities and general news mainly in the Fort Mill and York County areas. He began writing for the Herald and sister papers in 2005 and won dozens of South Carolina Press Association and other awards since.

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